The Michael Nyman Songbook

The Michael Nyman Songbook is a collection of art songs by Michael Nyman based on texts by Paul Celan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, William Shakespeare and Arthur Rimbaud. It was recorded as an album with Ute Lemper in 1991, and again as a concert film in 1992, under the direction of Volker Schlöndorff, again with Ute Lemper, though many of the musicians had changed. The songs have been recorded by others and as instrumentals, and are published by Chester Music. The album has been issued by both London Records and Argo Records, though the covers are the same except for the logo.

Songs to Texts by Celan, Shakespeare, Mozart, Rimbaud
Studio album by
ReleasedMarch 10, 1992
GenreArt song
LabelLondon, Argo
ProducerDavid Cunningham
Michael Nyman chronology
Prospero's Books
Songs to Texts by Celan, Shakespeare, Mozart, Rimbaud

The Hairdresser's Husband
Ute Lemper chronology
Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill
The Michael Nyman Songbook

The Texts

The texts are the poetry of Paul Celan in German, from the collections, Mohn und Gedächtnis (1952), Von Schwelle zu Schwelle (1955), and Sprachgitter (1959), two letters and a 1787 Carnival riddle by Mozart in English for the segment by Jeremy Newsom of Artifax/BBC's Not Mozart titled Letters, Riddles and Writs, Ariel songs from The Tempest composed for Prospero's Books, and L'Orgie Parisienne, ou Paris se Repeuple by Rimbaud. All save the Mozart are performed in their original language.

The Music

The songs are officially written for "low female voice". For Six Celan Songs, Nyman specifically wrote the pieces for Lemper. "Corona" and "Blume" "introduce an eight-bar chord sequence derived from Chopin's Mazurka in A minor, op. 17 no. 4 (the introduction to which was used by Gorecki in his Symphony No. 3)." It was composed between May and July 1990. Nyman's mother passed on 7 June, while he was writing "Blume", and he dedicated the cycle to her memory.[1] "I Am an Unusual Thing" "is based entirely on extracts from two of Haydn quartets"[1] and is from the opera, Letters, Riddles and Writs. L'Orgie parisienne is an extract from La Traversée de Paris.

The Album

Performed by Michael Nyman, Ute Lemper, and the Michael Nyman Band.

Track listing

Six Celan Songs (Paul Celan)

  • 1. Chanson einer Dame in Schatten – 6.18
  • 2. Es war Erde in ihnen – 4.12
  • 3. Psalm – 3.35
  • 4. Corona – 6.08
  • 5. Nächtlich geschürzt – 6.27
  • 6. Blume – 5.44

Ariel Songs (Shakespeare)

  • 7. Come and go – 3.15
  • 8. While you here do snoring lie – 1.06
  • 9. Full fathom five – 4.18

10. I am an unusual thing (Mozart) – 5.18

L'Orgie Parisienne (Rimbaud)

  • 11. Allez! on préviendra les reflux d'incendie – 3.18
  • 12. Quand tes pieds ont dansé – 3.24


The album contains only one letter by Mozart, which is musically contiguous with the riddle after the song.

The Film

The Michael Nyman Songbook
Directed byVolker Schlöndorff
Produced byEberhard Junkersdorf
StarringUte Lemper
Michael Nyman
John Harle
Nigel Barr
Music byMichael Nyman
CinematographyIgor Luther
Edited byGisela Grischow
Distributed byLondon Records
Release date
May 30, 1992
Running time
55 minutes

The film was shot at the Musikhalle, Hamburg, 4 February 1992, before a live audience nearly filling the room to capacity. It includes scenes from such films as Alain Resnais's Night and Fog and Alexander Dovzhenko's Earth.

The film does not contain the "Ariel Songs", but includes an instrumental prelude, which is "Miranda" from Prospero's Books. It also includes a letter from Letters, Riddles and Writs.

The only cast credits on the film itself are to Ute Lemper and the Michael Nyman Band. The band members are credited (with Marjorie Dunn and Beverley Davison's names misspelled as above) in the order above in a booklet packaged with the videocasette and DVD. The DVD edition is coupled with Ute Lemper Chante Kurt Weill.

See also


  1. Nyman's own liner notes, p. 4
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